One piece of information was of particular interest to Colin, the whereabouts of one “Billy the Cobbler,” a character of the neighbourhood, who would fix Colin’s shoe for him, and, incidentally, if he was in the mood, give us a musical and dramatic entertainment into the bargain.
At length our ways parted, and, with cheery good-byes and good wishes, our young friend went rattling along, leaving in our hearts a warm feeling of the brotherhood of man—sometimes. He had let us down close by the “High Banks,” the rumour of which had been in our ears for some miles, and presently the great effect Nature had been preparing burst on our gaze with a startling surprise. The peaceful pastoral country was suddenly cloven in twain by a gigantic chasm, the Genesee River, dizzy depths below, picturesquely flowing between Grand Canon rock effects, shaggy woods clothing the precipitous limestone, and small forests growing far down in the broad bed of the river, with here and there checkerboard spaces of cultivated land, gleaming, smooth and green, amid all the spectacular savageness—soft, cozy spots of verdure nestling dreamily in the hollow of the giant rocky hand. The road ran close to the edge of the chasm, and the sublimity was with us, laying its hush upon us, for the rest of the afternoon. Appropriate to her Jove-like mood, Nature had planted stern thickets of oak-trees along the rocky edge, and “the acorns of our lord of Chaonia” crunched beneath our feet as we walked on.
After a while, sure enough we came upon “Billy the Cobbler,” seated at his bench in a little shop at the beginning of a straggle of houses, alone, save for his cat, at the sleepy end of afternoon. We had understood that he had been crippled in some cruel accident of machinery, and was hampered in the use of his legs. But, unless in a certain philosophic sweetness on his big, happy face, there was no sign of the cripple about his burly, broad-shouldered personality. He was evidently meant to be a giant, and was what one might call the bo’sun type, bluff, big-voiced and merry, with a boyish laugh, large, twinkling eyes, a trifle wistful, and the fine teeth of the district.
“Well, boys,” said he, looking up from his work with a smile, “and what can I do for you? Walking, eh?—to New York!” and he whistled, as every one did when they learned our mysterious business.
Then, taking Colin’s shoe in his hand, he commenced to pound upon that instrument of torture, talking gaily the while. Presently he asked, “Do you care about music?” and on our eagerly agreeing that we did, “All right,” he said, “we’ll close the shop for a few minutes and have some.”